How I Got The Gig: 6 Dancer's Paths to Major, Memorable Jobs
Wondering how people actually book the dance world's most coveted jobs? Cattle-call auditions aren't the only route to a career: Sometimes it's about who you know—or about being in the right place at the right time. Dance Spirit asked six dancers to describe the moments when the stars aligned, allowing them to nab high-profile professional gigs.
The job: Company member, Chloé Arnold's Syncopated Ladies
How she got the gig: “I'd been taking class with Chloé at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy for about two years when she mentioned she was starting this new group—it didn't even have a name yet. I first auditioned to dance with them when I was 14 or 15, but I got cut! That was the push I needed to start taking my training more seriously—I wanted to be a part of the company so much. Over time, Chloé saw my work paying off, and I did my first show with the Syncopated Ladies at the L.A. Tap Festival in 2008."
What she's doing now: In addition to being a Syncopated Lady, Lee dances with Sarah Reich's Tap Music Project and is a regular performer at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas' Rose. Rabbit. Lie. supper club.
Job-booking advice: “Be nice to everyone. Tap auditions are rare—it's definitely more about word of mouth. And take class! If I hadn't been in Chloé's class at the right time, I might have missed the Syncopated Ladies train."
The job: Performer, Celebrity Cruises
How he got the gig: “I majored in history in college, but while I was in school I apprenticed with Atlantic City Ballet and took dance-focused electives. Second semester of senior year, I enrolled in a costume-design class. One day, I was daydreaming and started doing a port de bras. My design professor took note—and it turned out she had a side job mending costumes for Celebrity Cruises. She heard from a producer that they needed a male dancer, and reached out to me. I didn't pause to think about it: I filmed some ballet and jazz combos and put the tape in the mail. I got the offer a week later, and was in rehearsals two weeks after graduation!"
What he's doing now: Chester owns TLC Academy of Dance in Absecon, NJ, and works as a freelance performer.
Job-booking advice: “Be versatile. We all have dance styles we gravitate toward, but you can't be afraid to try other things. The more well-rounded you are, the more jobs will be out there for you."
Tim Chester performing in Atlantic City (Suzanne Fiedler, courtesy Chester)
The job: “Dancing with the Stars" pro
How she got the gig: “The 'Dancing with the Stars' producers get to know you based on your competitive credentials. By the time they contact you, they've done their research—they already have a sense of what you can do. When they reached out to me, I'd been performing with the traveling ballroom show Burn the Floor, and the 'DWTS' team had seen me in the production. They just asked me to do an on-camera interview; it was more about testing my personality than my technique. I joined the show's professional troupe for Season 14."
What she's doing now: For the past several seasons, Slater has had celebrity partners on “DWTS."
Job-booking advice: “Be ferocious in your personality. Producers and casting directors want to see confidence and energy."
Emma Slater (courtesy ABC)
The job: Dancer for/assistant to choreographer Marguerite Derricks
How she got the gig: “I'd been assisting Doug Caldwell in his class at the EDGE in L.A. One
day, we were working on a combination at his house, dancing around in his living room, and Marguerite stopped by. I was marking while they talked, and she paused and said, 'Dance for me.' So I did the combination for her, right there. The next day, I got a call offering me a dance role in the movie Fame, which Marguerite was choreographing."
What she's doing now: Esquibel went on to work with Derricks on the TV show “Bunheads," the Broadway musical Wonderland and many other gigs. She's also danced for Taylor Swift and toured with Shaping Sound.
Job-booking advice: “Be prepared at any moment. Every person you meet in the dance industry has something to offer, and could in some capacity help you build a career."
Mallauri Esquibel and Teddy Forance during a Shaping Sound performance (Chris Reilly, courtesy Esquibel)
The job: Swing and dance captain, Broadway's On Your Feet!
How she got the gig: “I'd worked with choreographer Sergio Trujillo on the first and second national tours of Flashdance: The Musical, where I was a swing, then dance captain and finally Sergio's associate choreographer. When Flashdance was over and I was back in NYC, Sergio invited me to audition for On Your Feet! I'd missed the open call because we were still on the road, and I didn't have an agent at the time. Sergio was the one who got me in the room. He said, 'I think this would be a good fit for you, but you'll have to prove that to the rest of the team.' And they ended up hiring me."
What she's doing now: Caruncho is still happily working in On Your Feet!
Job-booking advice: “Share your joy, your passion, your fierceness—whatever is uniquely you. People want to see a human being who will be fun, committed and hardworking in rehearsal. That's how you'll get creative team members to take a chance on you."
Natalie Caruncho backstage at "On Your Feet!" (courtesy Caruncho)
Albert Blaise Cattafi
The job: Company member, Bad Boys of Dance
How he got the gig: “As a teen, I idolized Rasta Thomas. When I was 13, I emailed him,
and he actually wrote back! A few years later, I was at a competition in NYC, and after my solo, Rasta approached me in the hallway. He said, 'I'm getting some guys together to start my own company. If you're interested, I'd love for you to join us.' So, right after graduating high school, I went into rehearsals with the Bad Boys of Dance. Having the opportunity to dance with Rasta—the epitome of what a male soloist should be—at the start of my career was invaluable."
What he's doing now: Cattafi has also danced with Shaping Sound, on “Saturday Night Live" and for musical artists including Kelly Clarkson. He's currently the resident choreographer for Phoenix Ballet in Scottsdale, AZ.
Job-booking advice: “Do your research. Watch videos. If you like a show or company, see if you can take class with people in it. You can control the type of artist you want to be."
Courtesy Albert Blaise Cattafi
Much of Janelle Ginestra's career has been about helping others shine. She's dedicated herself to supporting and cheerleading her partner, WilldaBeast Adams; the emerging talents in their dance company, ImmaBEAST; and the countless dancers she inspires at master classes and conventions. Her YouTube channel has become a launching pad for young talents like "Fraternal Twins" Larsen Thompson and Taylor Hatala, thanks to viral videos featuring Ginestra's creative vision.
But Ginestra's a skyrocketing success in her own right—an in-demand choreographer, a social media influencer, and a dance entrepreneur, building a legacy one eight-count at a time. It's time for her turn in the spotlight. And she's more than ready. "I want to be a legend in whatever I do," she says. We'd argue that she already is.
Daphne Lee is a queen, and not just in the "OMG Girl Boss Alert" sense of the word. She's an actual queen—a beauty queen. Crowned Miss Black USA in August, she's been doing double duty as she continues to dance with the Memphis based dance company, Collage Dance Collective. Lee's new title has given her the means to encourage other black girls and boys to pursue their dreams, while also pursuing dreams of her own. The scholarship money awarded with the pageant title will assist her as she earns a Masters of Fine Arts degree at Hollins University.
When a choreographer finds a composer whose music truly inspires her, it can feel like a match made in dance heaven. Some choreographers work with the same composers so frequently that they become known for their partnerships. New York City Ballet soloist and resident choreographer Justin Peck, for example, has tapped composer Sufjan Stevens numerous times (last spring, the two premiered The Decalogue at NYCB, to rave reviews); L.A. Dance Project's Benjamin Millepied's working relationship with composer Nico Muhly has spanned a decade and two continents; and when tap dancer Michelle Dorrance premiered the first-ever Works & Process Rotunda Project, a site-specific work for New York City's Guggenheim Museum, last year, percussionist Nicholas Van Young was by her side as an equal partner. Successful collaborations require compatibility between artists, direct and honest communication, and flexible, open minds. But when the stars align, working with a composer can be extremely rewarding.
For ballerinas, it's the dream role to end all dream roles: Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, the type of part dancers spend years preparing for and whole careers perfecting. And it's a role that New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck never thought she'd dance. Though Peck is one of the world's preeminent ballerinas, her short stature made Odette/Odile, typically performed by longer, leggier dancers, seem (almost literally) out of reach.
Then—surprise!—her name popped up on the cast list for NYCB's fall season run of Swan Lake.
Lani Dickinson's power, grace, and raw presence make her a standout with AXIS Dance Company, whose mission is to change the face of dance and disability by featuring a mix of disabled and non-disabled performers. Born in China, Dickinson was adopted by an American couple and started dancing at 8 in Towson, MD. She attended the Boston Ballet School for two summers, studied at the Idyllwild Arts Academy for the last two years of high school, and graduated with a dance degree from Alonzo King LINES Ballet's BFA program with Dominican University of California. In 2015, she joined AXIS and won a Princess Grace Award. Catch her this month during AXIS Dance Company's 30th-anniversary season—and read on for The Dirt!